The Village Voice Oct /Nov 2019


Wilbur and his friends are like the Red Arrows

of the cliff top birds.

Wilbur is a chough - a large black bird like a

crow except his beak and legs are red. This

species of bird love to fly in stormy weather

when the wind is blowing at 50mph or more. At

this wind force, choughs love to swoop up and

then dive down to show off to their friends.

One morning on Milford Cliff top near the White

House, I saw Wilbur trying to out shine his six

friends who were flying in formation with him.

The sky was dark and angry and the Needles

light house was just visible. Importantly it was

blowing and gusting at about 55mph - perfect

conditions for the choughs and their aerial


From my view point on the nearby cliff top path

I saw the following:

Several choughs were holding themselves

almost stationary about 8ft up from the cliff face

beneath them. There were 3 birds in a single

row each about 2ft apart at the wing tips. with 2

more birds above and 2 below ; making it 7

birds in all. The wind was coming off the cliff

face and shooting vertically upwards quite

violently. This up draught allowed the birds to

hover directly over the edge of the cliff top just

using the tips of their outstretched wings for


I watched for a couple of minutes as they

struggled to stay stationary in the space like a

squadron - they were doing quite well.

Then suddenly Wilbur broke formation and

dived down to the ground and landed close to a


By Dave Summers, Milford on Sea

piece of wood. This piece of wood was clean and

planed on all sides. It was 3/4” wide, 1/4 thick

and 7” long. Wilbur grabbed this flat piece of

wood in his claws, flew up and re-joined the

grouping in his original position. Wilbur then

used his genius to manipulate this piece of

wood as an aerofoil section to allow him to

stabilise his flight in the same way an aircraft


Within 20-30 seconds he was showing improved

stability over his friends as they all tried valiantly

to hold together their formation in the very

gusty air. One minute later they all broke free,

Wilbur then dropped his new found stabiliser

and they all went back to soaring and diving

once more.

I inspected the dropped piece of wood. It was

part of the strips of wood used on the adjacent

beach huts - the roofs are covered with a tar

based felting material for waterproofing and

these strips are added to stop the winds from

tearing it. This piece was a small off cut from a

longer length.

How did Wilbur know that this aerofoil would

stabilise his flight? Did his friends give up flying

with him because they didn't have one?

It is interesting that in 1903 when the age of

flight began, the two remarkable brothers

Orville and Wilbur spent many hours studying

the flight of birds before they did any design

work. They studied the wing shapes, their

weight, how they used their bodies/wings to

soar, glide, land and take off. Only then did they

build their first flying machine, a glider. Then

later with the addition of an engine, the first

machine they could sit in and fly like a bird.

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